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Big Bills, Little Bills

The fish is peeling line off my heavy-duty Penn International 70VS like a Japanese bullet train hell-bent to make one station stop—freedom. Fighting 22 pounds of drag at strike, the unseen and unknown fish has to slow down. It has to! I’ve stopped giant tuna on gear like this. I lean back, and the 5’6” stand-up rod makes an inverted U as my Braid belt and harness support me. The fish is sprinting straight down—800 feet, 1,000 feet, 1,250 feet. There’s 2,000-plus feet of line out and about 50 pounds of drag as well, but the spool keeps going like it’s in freespool. I’m losing. The train is finally stopping, but it’s too late. It is reaching its destination—freedom. The line breaks, and my monster mystery fish is gone. Fish one, angler zero. But this day isn’t over.

It’s 8:50 p.m. as the lights of Miami shine on the horizon like a diner’s open-all-night neon sign and I stand in the harness with stoop shoulders, temporarily heartbroken. The four squid baits, which are illuminated with strobes and light sticks, are being quickly reset by the crew of Canyon Runner. This well-known New Jersey Shore-based charter boat targets tuna in the northeast canyons during the summer and sailfish, swordfish, and sea monsters like the one I just lost in South Florida during the winter. Although today’s crew, made up of Capt. Justin Nighan, Capt. Mark Decabia, my brother Chip, and me, want to see what’s on the other end of the line, we also don’t want to know, as the thought of it having been a giant swordfish would hurt too much. We’re talking ourselves into believing it could’ve been a large mako or a voracious ray, but down deep we all know that the way the fish took off straight down, its strength, and its speed made Mr. Broadbill the most likely candidate.

It’s now 11 p.m., and we’re all watching with saucer-plate eyes as one of the rods starts to slowly stretch its neck and Nighan yells, “Swordfish!” After dashing to the corner rod and taking two cranks, the line is tight and the fish is on. I step into the harness and set the reel into the belt. Nighan sprints up to the flying bridge, barely touching a step. He quickly starts the big MAN diesels in case we need to chase the fish. DeCabia is looking to make sure the 12-foot harpoon with dart tip is at the ready for an early shot at this fish. Oftentimes a swordfish will come up and take a look after first grabbing the bait. And true to form, the wide-eyed and wooly sword does just that. He shoots across just off the transom, dragging me (I’m now one with the fish, thanks to the belt and harness) from starboard to port as if my 170 pounds leaning into him simply doesn’t matter. The fish is too far away for DeCabia to take a quick dart shot, even though he’s up on the gunwale with harpoon in hand, ready to go all Ahab on the fish.

This article originally appeared in the October 2006 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.